The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

He buried his son a week ago. Now Jamie Raskin is helping lead the impeachment charge.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) thanked House members on Jan. 6 for their kindness after the death his son, who died at 25 on New Year's Eve. (Video: The Washington Post)
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He returned home sometime after 4 a.m. on Thursday, after Congress finished certifying the election results in the shadow of a mob invasion, and tried to get some rest.

“I haven’t been sleeping a lot since we’ve been without Tommy,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) acknowledged.

It had been a week since his 25-year-old son, Thomas Bloom Raskin, died by suicide, less than two days since they buried him, and just over 12 hours since Raskin took cover with his daughter and son-in-law at the U.S. Capitol as Trump supporters ransacked the building and attacked police.

But Raskin still had work to do.

The constitutional law professor was out of bed before 8 a.m. He would spend the week drafting an article of impeachment against President Trump, as well as a resolution asking Vice President Pence to set in motion steps outlined under the 25th Amendment to incapacitate the president.

His source of strength, he said in an interview Monday, is his son.

“I felt him in my heart and in my chest,” Raskin said. “All the way through the counting of the electoral college votes and through the nightmare of the armed attack on the Capitol.”

The four-hour insurrection: How a Trump mob halted American democracy

House Democrats say dramatic action is necessary to sideline Trump in the final days of his tenure, given the president’s relentless attempts to undermine the results of the election and his incitement of those who breached the Capitol.

Raskin has played this role before, though not at a time of such personal loss and national trauma. Last year, as a member of the House Judiciary and Rules committees, he was among the Democrats to present hours of testimony making the case for impeachment.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) spoke on the House floor on Jan. 12, a day before debate began on an attempt to impeach President Trump for a second time. (Video: The Washington Post)

He has spent four years pushing Congress to sharpen unused tools contained within the 25th Amendment — namely the ability for lawmakers to appoint an independent body to debate the fitness of a president — in the event it would become pertinent during Trump’s presidency. It was the first bill he ever filed.

Now, with his family grieving and the nation’s democratic institutions under siege, he has been tapped as one of the House impeachment managers. Lawmakers voted 223 to 205 Tuesday night in favor of his 25th Amendment resolution, which asked Pence and Cabinet members “to declare what is obvious to a horrified Nation: That the President is unable to successfully discharge the duties and powers of his office.”

Republicans begin to join push for Trump’s impeachment

Pence announced in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier Tuesday that he would not invoke the 25th Amendment, so the resolutions is essentially moot.

But Raskin will continue to play a lead role in the impeachment proceedings, which will turn on a legal principle that Raskin said he discussed not long ago with Tommy. The young man had followed both his parents to Harvard Law School and was in the middle of his second year.

In his First Amendment class, the younger Raskin was studying the “incitement to imminent lawless action,” which Raskin described as “the line where speech ends and conduct begins.” Tommy had asked him, Raskin recalled: Would a government official be held to a higher standard than a private citizen?

“That ironically is going to be the critical issue for us talking about Donald Trump,” he said. “Some people are saying, ‘Well, Donald Trump was just exercising his free speech.’ As president of the United States, he cannot be encouraging, counseling and inciting mobs that go and attack the Capitol of the United States.”

Inside Trump’s failure to act after a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol

In his four years in Congress, Raskin has been a prized asset for Democrats because of what House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called his “unparalleled knowledge of our Constitution.” That legal prowess, coupled with an activist’s spirit, has bolstered his reputation since he entered Maryland politics roughly 15 years ago.

Raskin, who lives in famously liberal Takoma Park, joined the Maryland Senate in 2007, establishing himself as an intellectual powerhouse with a dizzying array of interests, a master of the witty quip, and a favorite of the civil rights and environmental groups he championed unequivocally.

“He has an extremely gifted mind, intellectually,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D), who served in the Senate with Raskin. “He can be eloquent on almost any subject. And the most endearing, or impressive, thing about it is he’s not arrogant. He’s not full of himself.”

Off the floor, Raskin’s wide-ranging interests earned him friends and connections of all political stripes, including a running chess duel with one of the chamber’s most conservative members, now-Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel).

“He’s very affable,” Simonaire said. “But he’d kill you in a debate.”

So when, on New Year’s Eve, Raskin’s office revealed that his son, Tommy, had died, lawmakers across the political landscape flooded the Raskin family with support, which Raskin said was heartening.

He and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, a senior Treasury Department official under President Barack Obama, published a searing tribute to their son a few days later that revealed his struggle with depression. The tribute included Tommy’s final wishes: “Please look after each other, the animals, and the global poor for me”— a plea that has since led hundreds of strangers to honor his legacy with acts of kindness of their own.

On Jan. 5, they laid Tommy to rest, in a small, private ceremony because of the pandemic.

And then came Wednesday, when Republicans in Congress would heed Trump’s calls to challenge — without evidence — the victory of President-elect Joe Biden.

Raskin’s daughter Tabitha asked him to stay home from work that day. But Raskin told her that as a lead floor manager, tapped by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he couldn’t do that.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you just come with me?’ ” he recounted. She agreed, hoping to see her father in action. Raskin’s son-in-law Hank Kronick, who is married to his other daughter, Hannah, joined them.

Rep. Raskin and his wife on their late son: ‘A radiant light in this broken world’

As Raskin took the lectern to speak against Republican objections to the electoral college votes, he thanked his colleagues for their support. The chamber gave him a prolonged ovation.

Less than an hour later, the mob breached the building.

In the tumult, Raskin and his family got separated: Raskin and other lawmakers, donning gas masks, were whisked away to an undisclosed location; his daughter and son-in-law, who were seated elsewhere, ended up in Hoyer’s office adjacent to the House floor with Raskin’s chief of staff.

“They were locked inside and barricaded the door,” Raskin said, “and Tabitha and Hank were hiding under the desk as this mob pounded on the doors.”

They were reunited an hour later in a committee room, where they stayed for hours, Raskin said, and where he hugged Tabitha tight and told her he was sorry, feeling responsible, horrified by what they, and everyone, had witnessed.

“We cannot let this go,” he said of the need to hold Trump accountable.

In the days that followed, as Raskin joined Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) in drafting the article of impeachment and prepared to make his case against the president on the House floor, he thought of his son again and again.

If he were here, the law student and moral-philosophy devotee would have thought the violence at the Capitol was “the absolute worst form of crime against democracy,” Raskin said.

“It really is Tommy Raskin,” he added, “and his love and his values and his passion, that have kept me going.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also reach a crisis counselor by texting 741741 to the Crisis Text Line.